My eldest son commented the other day that, “I was the man who knew when all the ‘Cons’ were”. To which case I felt a little baffled, but as I thought about it I realized I’d been to three different “Cons” just this year. One major one MGC or Midwest Gaming Classics, and two smaller ones Geekz Con a comiccon in Elgin, IL and VGS or Video Game Summit in Villa Park, IL. I can’t blame you if you never heard it Geekz Con, it’s only been going a little over two years, and it’s more about comics than games.
As for VGS or Video Game Summit it’s a video gaming con that’s been going on for a number of years now. I first heard about it in 2014 when Hugues Johnson mentioned it on the Retro League, but never gave any thought to really attending until last year when I saw multiple ads for it in Old School Gamer Magazine.
I was finally able to attend this year do to all the right circumstances coming together for that particular weekend, something that rarely happens at this time of year. So after purchasing my ticket with early bird access the night before for a whopping $15, I attended the show on July 13th. Now keep in mind that the only video game themed convention I had attended before this was MGC, so $15 seemed like nothing cost wise, not to mention my youngest son who came with me, got in for free. Not to mention the early-bird entrance fee came with a really cool bag and a ton of other swag. With that said though I also had to curb my expectations as to what the show might be. Keeping in mind that VGS is a one day event that last a little over 8 hours, and is still relatively unknown to most gamers.
After a late start my son and I arrived at VGS’s venue, The Odeum, in Villa Park, IL a little after 9:30 AM. Despite the traffic of Route 83, the expressways, and shopping centers galore in the area, The Odeum’s location on Villa Avenue, which is only about a block West from Rte 83, is strangely peaceful and nearly rural. It neighbors across the road included a house with a very large backyard and car for sale by the roadside, and next to that a quiet looking country church. The Odeum itself though has seen better days since it opened in 1981. It’s back parking lot looked like a construction yard, with parked trucks and mechanical equipment, and it’s overall exterior had the look of a fallen hotspot. The main lot was also a bit rundown, but provided ample parking all of which was close to the entrance. After walking down the long vehicle portico, we reached the main entrance and were guided up a ramp by a security guard. Walking up the ramp it was easy to see the Odeums various halls and uses, one of which was going to be a rock concert of some kind that evening.
VGS was in the “skybox” overlooking that same large hall. Of course I only found out this space was a skybox later that evening via Facebook, since it seemed far larger than a skybox should be for a venue of its size. It also extended into a large entrance area outside the skybox, that managed to encapsulate the bar entrance. The Facebook posting I previously mentioned from later that evening, spoke about complaints on how hot the venue was. It was hot but I chalked it up to it being summer in Illinois, and a small space with a lot of people in it.
Now unlike MGC, VGS is only a vendor hall only convention, with a small area for a few other things. I didn’t entirely mind this since it reminded me of my electric train collecting days when you’d come to shows mainly to buy, sell, and trade. With that said smaller shows can also nab you a few great deals, and allow you to actually talk with vendors. One vendor had a North American Neo Geo with two controllers and 2 games for $600, as well as a Virtual Boy complete with travel case for $260, and both were in excellent working condition. I bought neither but I’m kicking myself for not picking up the NeoGeo, especially since I would have loved to strut out of the convention like a boss with that NeoGeo in my hands.
My youngest, who’s 6, also managed to get into an argument with one vendor about a green Pac-man ghost made out of legos, when he pointed out how there are no green ghosts in Pac-man. That’s a story for a different day.
Of course I was going there to play and possibly purchase an arcade or pinball machine, and I was a bit letdown since the show had neither. The show just featured console games and a few vendors of miscellaneous game items and decorations. With that said you can imagine after an hour you’ve pretty much seen everything and have even visited a few vendors multiple times. My son and I dumped our goods in my car, and only being a little after 10:30 had little reason to stay besides the Noon prize drawing.
He and I then headed to the Odeum’s bar for something to drink, but the issue with the Odeum’s bar is that due to “video gaming” (a term meant to dignify video slot machines in Illinois) my son couldn’t go beyond four stools at the front of the bar. Which meant we couldn’t comfortably have a place to waste time and cool off. So by the time I finished my ice cold soda, and he his bag of chips we wasted all of around 15 minutes. We headed back into the show and attempted to waste another hour and fifteen minutes. When Noon hit we went to the ticket desk and asked the older gentleman there if he had the numbers for the tickets drawn, he said no, and we bailed. To be honest the older gentleman and the entry table wasn’t very helpful with much of anything, but the teenage boy he was with would nearly bend over backwards to help attendees.
The question you’re probably asking after reading all this “Is VGS worth going to?”
The answer for me is yes, and no, based on what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for an event with guest speakers, special events, and to experience the excitement of the retro gaming community then no, VGS isn’t for you. That’s something MGC can fulfill for you, with all its special events. However, if your looking to find a bargain, or something in particular, or to have a grassroots experience with vendors and others in the retro gaming community than VGS would probably fit the ticket for you. Although the event did eventually get crowded, there’s a sense of a slightly more intimate environment within a small show, that something like MGC can’t deliver due to its size. Another thing I can state is that being a newbie to VGS, I was a little uninformed as to how VGS’s events actually worked and played out. So perhaps I did miss some of those elements, and could have taken away more.
As to whether or not I will return in 2020, I don’t know. As previously stated I came in search of arcade and pin-ball prospects, and not to solidify my console collection. So if I were to attend next year I would do so a bit better informed and with my console games wish-list in hand.